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Beginning Genealogy: Finding North Carolina Records

This is a guide to print and online resources useful to the study of family history and genealogy. Many of these materials are available through the Government and Heritage Library.


With the invention of the internet, locating and searching for information is now easier than ever before. But, at the same time, it has allowed for many competing options of places to search, making searching complicated. Even yet, people have been searching for genealogical information using print sources for generations - especially in times before the internet existed. How do you find the North Carolina record you are looking for?

You've come to the right place! Keep reading this page to learn more about recommended resources, both in print and online, to get started in your search. Note that every genealogical research project will likely benefit from a combination of searching for both materials online and in those in print.

There are several organizations that have resources to assist you in your search for records, including the State Library of North Carolina, the State Archives of North Carolina, and other organizations.

  • The State Library of North Carolina’s Government & Heritage Library is an excellent resource to assist you in beginning your genealogy research. Located in downtown Raleigh, NC, the library assists patrons both in person and remotely via e-mail, telephone, mail, and live chat. The mission of the SLNC Government & Heritage Library is collecting published material about North Carolina history, government, and culture. Much of what the library collects is especially useful for genealogy research. The collection includes numerous published abstracts & indexes of records, county histories, family history books, periodicals, microfilm, vertical files, and much more.
  • The State Archives of North Carolina is located in the same building as the State Library of North Carolina in Raleigh, NC. Though a separate entity from the State Library of North Carolina, many of their collections go hand-in-hand. The State Archives of North Carolina collects original, primary documents about the history of the state, including many county records and private collections that can be useful for genealogy. Many abstracts & indexes found in the State Library of North Carolina point to or cite documents that are physically available in the State Archives of North Carolina – this is why many researchers start their research at the State Library and then search the State Archives for original documents.
  • It is a good strategy to consider what entity created records that you are looking for as those entities may still obtain them. Many North Carolina counties contain past records at their respective county Register of Deeds offices and courthouses.
  • Museums, local libraries & archives, genealogy and historical societies may also be useful resources to consult for local information.

State Library of North Carolina: Print Resources

Check out the SLNC Government & Heritage Library’s catalog to see what items the library has in its collection. If an item has been digitized, the catalog record for the item will contain a link to the item in a digital format.

Many people start their North Carolina genealogy research with the SLNC Government & Heritage Library’s resources before visiting an archive in order to help them find the information they need to locate particular documents that will further their research. One of the most valuable things that the SLNC Government & Heritage Library collects are published abstracts & indexes of original records that are located in the State Archives of North Carolina and other archival locations.

Did you know? Abstracts & indexes are often self-published works by researchers who have visited an archive and looked at a particular collection, then have written a book on the records they saw, often listing names of individuals in an index. Abstracts are like indexes, but may contain a snippet of the text of a record or provide a summary of it. Abstracts & indexes can be helpful in determining where an original record may be located as often they cite where the records the researcher looked at were found. Abstracts & indexes can be about all sorts of documents – estate records, wills, county court minutes, marriage licenses, etc.

There may be more abstracts & indexes about certain counties than others - it completely depends on what has been published for that county and what the library has collected. Live far away from Raleigh or can’t make a trip to the library in person? If you find any specific books in the catalog that that you believe may mention information on your family, our library’s staff can do a look-up in them for a specific individual’s name. The exception is that we cannot do a look-up in a book without an index. We can help with one ancestor in one time period and place at a time. Feel free to contact our library’s staff at or (919) 814-6790.

What other kinds of print materials may be worth looking into at the SLNC Government & Heritage Library and other libraries with local history collections for genealogy research?

  • Newspapers in bound volumes or on microfilm
  • Books about how to do different kinds of genealogy
  • Published family histories
  • Vertical files
  • County records and indexes on microfilm/microfiche
  • Census indexes
  • Census microfilm
  • Historical maps
  • Family charts
  • Periodicals by genealogical societies

State Archives of North Carolina: Original Records

It is best to consult the State Archives  of North Carolina when you know of a particular document you are looking for and have information about where in North Carolina and when it was created. Note that though the State Archives has a plethora of original records, many are still held by the counties that created them and may be with their county courthouses or Register of Deeds offices, for example. Check out the North Carolina County Records Guides online to get an idea of what is available through the State Archives of North Carolina.

Need to contact the State Archives to request a record or speak to an archivist? Contact them at (919) 814-6840 or

Other Organizations

Be sure to take some time to look at local resources like websites for county Register of Deeds offices, courthouses, libraries, archives, genealogical societies, and historical societies. It is possible that some of these websites may have online portals for particular records searches or instructions on how records can be accessed. State Libraries and Archives' websites may also be helpful, or you can contact their staff for guidance. You'll never know what you'll find until you look.

It is important to keep in mind the places where your ancestors and relatives lived. Often times, libraries, organizations, and people from the places you are studying can be the experts on the history of that particular area.

State Library of North Carolina: Online Resources

The internet has allowed for many records to be available remotely. However, with so many different types of records to look for and a myriad of online sources available, it can be overwhelming to start a search for records online. Where do you start? Thankfully, the State Library of North Carolina’s Government & Heritage Library is here to help get you on the right track.

Where to look for a record online will likely depend on what type of record you are seeking, the place where the record was created, and when the record was created. Keep in mind too that not every record has been digitized. There are some excellent online resources that are broad in their coverage of records, which may be good to start with, such as:

  • or Ancestry Library Edition
  • HeritageQuest
  • Fold3 and HeritageQuest are subscription databases where you can purchase a personal subscription. A lot of local libraries provide access to library editions of them, so it is worth contacting your local public library or state library to see if they provide access to them for patrons. Ancestry Library Edition and HeritageQuest are available at the SLNC Government & Heritage Library in downtown Raleigh, NC. is a free website to search if you create a free account on it. Fold3 is a sister resource of Ancestry and focuses on military records, though it also provides access to some non-military records like city directories.

 The SLNC Government & Heritage Library provides access to a plethora of online resources that are useful for genealogy research. The library's full list of online resources contains several categories of resources organized on different tabs. Categories include newspapers, genealogy & history, geographic information, data, demographics, business, e-books & video, and reference.

Note that there is a key at the bottom of the page that will help you determine what the symbols mean next to each resource. The ones with the red "free" flags next to them are freely available and don't need a library card number to access. The resources with a North Carolina shape next to them require an SLNC Government & Heritage Library card to access. SLNC Government & Heritage Library cards are only available to current North Carolina residents and state employees. Resources with the NC LIVE (flower) symbol next to them require a local library card number from North Carolina or an SLNC Government & Heritage Library card. Resources with the building symbol next to them are for on-site access at our library in Raleigh only. Not a North Carolina resident or state employee and see a resource you are interested in but can’t access? Contact your local library or state library to see if they provide access to that resource or a similar one!

Just getting started in your genealogy search and don’t know where to begin searching online? Try searching the U.S. Census on Ancestry Library Edition or HeritageQuest!

Also, be sure to check out the North Carolina Digital Collections which is a collaboration between the State Library of North Carolina and the State Archives of North Carolina. This site is completely free and contains many digitized materials sorted by collection. Check out the “Family Records” collection that contains WPA Cemetery Survey, family Bible records, and other miscellaneous material, or the “State Publications” collection with digitized state agency publications like the North Carolina Session Laws, General Statutes, and more.

State Archives of North Carolina: Online Resources

The State Archives has an online catalog of their records that is searchable by keyword or name. Note, however, that not all of their records are included in their Discover Online catalog and most are not available digitally. This catalog can be a useful source for finding record ID numbers for original materials in the State Archives.

The State Archives of North Carolina also has many finding aids on their website that can help you understand more about what is in particular collections of theirs, including audiovisual, military, private, organizational, and even state agency collections.

Don’t forget the North Carolina Digital Collections which also contains many items from the State Archives of North Carolina!

Need help requesting records from the State Archives remotely? Check out their website’s page on services to learn how to request these records and possible fees involved.